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Mississippi's end run around abortion

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu July 12, 2012
The only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi could be forced to close under a new state law.
The only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi could be forced to close under a new state law.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: Mississippi can't be dismissed in its efforts to restrict abortions
  • Why? Because its new regulations on abortion doctors could force last clinic from state
  • LZ: This is a canny way to make abortion illegal; if upheld, other states may try approach
  • LZ: Liberals may mock the state, but it may have found a way around Roe v. Wade

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs

(CNN) -- Mississippi may be the fattest state in the country. And it may be among the least educated and have provided the backdrop to some of the country's most heinous displays of racism.

And you can dismiss its lawmakers as just a bunch of dumb, backwoods hicks if you think that makes for good humor in other parts of the country. But then consider this: It's possible its legislature has cannily unlocked a way to make abortion illegal without having to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The state has instituted a series of unreasonable regulations for doctors who perform abortions. Using a practice very similar to the kind of bottlenecking that was done to suppress black votes during the Jim Crow era, Mississippi has systematically squeezed the number of abortion clinics in the state down to just one.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

And if a federal court ultimately finds its new regulations constitutional, that one will be gone too. (Wednesday, a federal judge extended his temporary order to let the clinic stay open).

In other words, Mississippi, the dumb little state that supposedly couldn't, will effectively become the leader in what some call a regressive movement --though a recent Gallup poll suggests it's not as out-of-touch as they may think.

Fifty percent of Americans identify as pro-life and from 1995 to 2010, some 600 abortion-related laws have passed on the state level. And it would seem the anti-abortion movement is picking up steam. Within the first six months of 2011, 162 new anti-abortion provisions were implemented around the country. For those keeping score, that also coincides with the rise of the tea party movement.

Coincidence?

Maybe.

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But when one looks at that astounding spike in the numbers running in tandem with the tea party-led attack on Planned Parenthood that strangled the debt ceiling debate, the likelihood that it's all just one big coin-ki-dink is a tough sell.

And keep in mind that Mississippi, arguably the most conservative state in the country, is not some outlier. A fifth of the nation wants all abortions to be illegal. Only 41% view themselves as pro-choice, while 52% believe abortion should only be legal under certain circumstances, such as rape. America continues to struggle with this issue; it's small wonder that Mississippi is able to exploit this.

My own view lies somewhere in the middle: I'm against abortion ... so I refuse to have one. Seeing how I've never had an unwanted or life-threatening pregnancy, I don't feel equipped to tell complete strangers in those circumstances what they should do with their bodies.

I'd argue that this view is no more absurd than watching four GOP presidential candidates debate the topic of abortion last winter with not one of them using the word "woman" in any form.

It is also absurd that a female, Democratic lawmaker in Michigan was barred from speaking in the Republican controlled House because that body felt using the word "vagina" in a debate about abortion violated decorum.

What's also absurd? That liberals continue to think they can change the national dialogue about this topic and other controversial issues simply by making fun of stereotypical people from the South.

Earlier this year, Nancy Pelosi's filmmaker daughter, Alexandra, conducted a round of interviews there for HBO's "Real Time." Some of the comments she came back with, such as that Barack Obama was a "half-breed," were indeed ignorant and did not surprise me at all. But dismissing Mississippi in this abortion debate misses the magnitude of the decision that could end up prevailing.

This isn't just about the 20th state in the Union. If the judge eventually lifts the injunction to the law, it may present the blueprint that conservative lawmakers use in the other 49 in an effort to outlaw all abortions.

For decades, liberals and conservatives have been fighting to find the answer to this great riddle: Whose rights should take precedence -- the mother's or that of the unborn child she is carrying?

What Mississippi lawmakers have done is said to hell with the answer, and instead opted to eliminate the riddle all together.

You can call it a war on women, you can call it misogyny run amok, you can call it covert theocracy; it doesn't really matter.

The end result is this: Reproductive health is about to get a face-lift, whether it wants one or not. Because even if the Mississippi law is ruled unconstitutional (in 1992 the Supreme Court said no state shall impose laws that places undue burden on women seeking an abortion), that won't stop copycats in other parts of the country from massaging what the state did in hopes of creating a law that will hold up in the books.

Not bad for a state that's routinely made into a punch line.

If the court rules in its favor, I guess we'll know who has the last laugh.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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